26. Six Strangers
From Candide by Voltaire (1759)

Of Candide and Martin supping with six strangers, and who they were.

ONE night as Candide, followed by Martin, was going to seat himself at table with some strangers who lodged in the same hotel, a man with a face black as soot came behind him, and taking him by the arm, said,

"Get ready to start with us immediately; don't fail!"

He turned his head and saw Cacambo. Nothing but the sight of Cunegonde could have surprised or pleased him more. He was ready to run mad for joy. Embracing his dear friend,

"Cunegonde is here," said he , "without doubt; where is she? Carry me to her, that I may die with joy in her company!"
"Cunegonde is not here," said Cacambo , "she is at Constantinople."
"Oh, Heavens! at Constantinople? But, if she was in China, I would fly thither; let us begone."
"We will go after supper," replied Cacambo , "I can tell you no more; I am a slave; my master expects me, and I must go and wait at table; say not a word; go to supper and hold yourself in readiness."

Candide, distracted between joy and grief, charmed at having seen his trusty agent, astonished at beholding him a slave, full of the idea of finding his mistress again, his heart palpitating, and his understanding confused, set himself down at the table with Martin (who looked on all these adventures without the least emotion), and with six strangers that were come to spend the carnival at Venice.

Cacambo, who poured out wine for one of the six strangers, drew near to his master, towards the end of the repast, and whispered him in the ear,

"Sire, your Majesty may set out when you think proper, the ship is ready."

On saying these words, he went out. The guests looked at each other in surprise, without speaking a word; when another servant approaching his master, said to him,

"Sire, your Majesty's chaise is at Padua, and the yacht is ready."

The master gave a nod, and the domestic retired. All the guests stared at one another again, and their mutual surprise was increased. A third servant approaching the third stranger, said to him,

"Sire, believe me, your Majesty must not stay here any longer; I am going to get everything ready";

and immediately he disappeared.

Candide and Martin had by this time concluded that this was a masquerade of the carnival. A fourth domestic said to the fourth master: "Your Majesty may depart whenever you please"; and went out as the others had done. The fifth servant said the same to the fifth master; but the sixth servant spoke in a different manner to the sixth stranger, who sat near Candide:

"'Faith, Sire," said he , "no one will trust your Majesty any longer, nor myself neither; and we may both be sent to jail this very night; I shall, however, take care of myself. Adieu."

All the domestics having disappeared, the six strangers, with Candide and Martin, remained in a profound silence. At last Candide broke the silence.

"Gentlemen," said he , "this is something very droll; but why should you be all Kings? For my part, I own to you, that I am not, neither is Martin."

Cacambo's master answered very gravely in Italian,

"I assure you that I am not in jest; I am Achmet III. I was Grand Sultan for several years; I dethroned my brother; my nephew dethroned me; my viziers were beheaded; I pass my life in the old seraglio. But my nephew, the Grand Sultan Mahmoud, permits me to take a voyage sometimes for the benefit of my health, and I have come to pass the carnival at Venice."

A young man who sat near Achmet spoke next.

"My name is Ivan; I was Emperor of all the Russians; I was dethroned in my cradle; my father and mother were imprisoned; I was brought up in prison. I have sometimes permission to travel, accompanied by two persons as guards; I am also come to pass the carnival at Venice."

The third said,

"I am Charles Edward, King of England; my father ceded his rights to the throne to me. I have sought to defend them; eight hundred of my adherents had their hearts torn out alive, and their heads struck off. I myself have been in prison. I am going to Rome, to pay a visit to my father, who has been dethroned, as well as myself and my grandfather, and am come to Venice to celebrate the carnival."

The fourth then said,

"I was King of Poland; the fortune of war has deprived me of my hereditary dominion; my father experienced the same reverse; I resign myself to providence, like the Sultan Achmet, the Emperor Ivan, and Charles Edward, whom God long preserve; and I am come to pass the carnival at Venice."

The fifth said,

"I was King of Poland; I lost my kingdom twice; but providence has given me another government, in which I have done more good than all the kings of the Sarmatians put together have been able to do on the banks of the Vistula. I resign myself to providence, and am come to pass the carnival at Venice."

It was now the sixth monarch's turn to speak.

"Gentlemen," said he , "I am not so great a prince as any of you; but for all that, I have been a King, as well as the best of you. I am Theodore; I was elected King of Corsica; I was once called Your Majesty, but at present am scarce allowed the title of Sir. I have caused money to be coined, but am not master at present of a farthing. I have had two secretaries of state, but now have scarce a single servant. I have been myself on a throne, and have for some time lain upon straw in a common jail in London. I am afraid I shall meet with the same treatment here, although I came hither, like your Majesties, to pass the carnival at Venice."

The five other kings heard this speech with a noble compassion. Each of them gave King Theodore twenty sequins to buy him some clothes and shirts, and Candide made him a present of a diamond worth two thousand sequins.

"Who," said the five kings , "can this person be, who is able to give, and really has given an hundred times as much as either of us?Sir, are you also a King?"
"No, gentlemen," said Candide , "nor have I any desire to be one."

At the instant they rose from the table there arrived at the same inn four Serene Highnesses, who had also lost their dominions by the fortune of war, and were come to pass the carnival at Venice. But Candide took no notice of these new comers, his thoughts being wholly taken up with going to Constantinople in search of his dear Cunegonde.

« NEXT » « Candide » « Classics » « Library »